GOPHERS MEN'S HOOPS AT RUTGERS
FULLER'S FOUR THINGS TO WATCH:
Richard Pitino made a switch in his starting lineup in last weekend's loss at Purdue by going with sophomore Tre' Williams to give his team a spark. The end result was the same with the Gophers suffering their fifth road loss this season, but they were clearly a different team early.
Williams made up for a slow start offensively from standout junior point guard Marcus Carr by scoring all of his eight points in the first half, which helped the Gophers take a 14-point lead against the Boilermakers. The 6-foot-5 Texas native was 2-for-2 from three-point range and grabbed five rebounds in a season-high 23 minutes on the night.
Other than a defensive breakdown and a technical foul in the first half, Pitino was encouraged by what he saw from the high-energy Williams, who replaced junior Both Gach as the third starting guard next to Carr and Gabe Kalscheur.
"He's got an unbelievable belief in himself," Pitino said. "I just felt like the backcourt needed that a little bit. He's even more outwardly vocal than Gabe, Both and even Marcus. He's just got spirit."
Carr, a Bob Cousy Award finalist, had just six points on 2-for-13 shooting at Purdue last weekend. He's averaging 11.8 points on 24% shooting in five road losses, but he's scoring 23.4 points per game on 48% shooting at home.
Gach, who celebrates his birthday Thursday, was the second option to Carr when he averaged 14.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists and shot 57% from the field in seven nonconference games. But the 6-6 Utah transfer and Austin native struggled to adjust to life in the Big Ten, averaging 5.1 points on 28% shooting, to go with 3.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists.
"We've got to get Both going," Pitino said. "We saw earlier in the year the amount of little things Both can do. So, keep looking for that backcourt to continue to improve, get better, gel and mesh."
Three-point shooting bigs
You could argue that Liam Robbins, Eric Curry, Brandon Johnson, and Isaiah Ihnen give the Gophers one of the best outside shooting frontcourts in the Big Ten.
Robbins shoots 38% (16 for 42) from beyond the arc, which is impressive for a 7-footer. Johnson shoots 33%, but he hit eight threes in the Dec. 25 overtime win vs. Iowa. Curry had 11 points with two three-pointers in the Purdue loss. Ihnen hasn't found his stroke this season, but he was hitting around 38% from long distance as a freshman last season.
Having big men that can stretch the floor is key in the pick-and-pop plays the Gophers run in their ball screen offense, but Robbins and company can maybe get carried away at times with jump shots. They will need to be more physical and provide an inside presence Thursday at Rutgers.
The Gophers big men were 4-for-12 from three-point range against Purdue, but they only scored 20 points in the paint as a team. They also shot just 5-for-16 on layups.
The Gophers are worst in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (minus-3.1). They won the battle of the boards for three straight games vs. Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State. But that wasn't enough to overcome being beaten on the glass by Illinois (minus-18), Iowa twice (minus-17 and minus-6), Michigan twice (minus-9 and minus-4), Maryland (minus-8) and Purdue (minus-17) most recently. Robbins leads the Gophers (6.9) in rebounding this season, but he has only one double-double game this year. This isn't like years past when Jordan Murphy (twice) and Daniel Oturu (last season) led the Big Ten in rebounding. They were good for 10-12 rebounds every night. Now it has to be more of a team effort.
The Gophers, who gave up 17 offensive rebounds vs. the Boilermakers in their last game, are last in the Big Ten in rebounding defense (42.1) in league play. The Scarlet Knights are 12th in defensive rebounding (36.9).
The Gophers currently rank No. 1 in the Big Ten overall (19.1) in free throws made per game, but that number has dropped to 14.6 free throws made in Big Ten games. This season is still a major upgrade from last year when they ranked 285th nationally with 11.5 foul shots made per game. They're getting to the line nearly twice as often and converting 75.2 percent, ranked fourth overall in the Big Ten. Getting to the line is obviously a strength for Pitino's team. Getting outshot has been detrimental. They were 5-14 when outshot by their opponent on free throws last season. They're 2-5 in the same situation this season.
Carr, who shoots 77.2 percent on free throws, is behind only Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis for the most made free throws (88) among Big Ten players this season. Carr was just 2-for-2 on free throws against Michigan on the road and didn't attempt a free throw at Iowa. The Big Ten's third leading scorer attacking the basket and getting to the foul line is critical to Minnesota's offense.
Time: 8 p.m. CT, Thursday. Where: Rutgers Athletic Center. Line: Minnesota 5.5-point underdogs. Series: Minnesota leads the series 8-4 but lost the last meeting 64-56 at the RAC on Jan. 19, 2020. TV: FS1. Online/Live video: FoxSports. Radio: 100.3 KFAN.
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (11-6, 4-6)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Marcus Carr 6-2 195 Jr. 20.0
G – Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 200 Jr. 9.1
G – Tre' Williams 6-5 195 So. 3.5
F – Brandon Johnson 6-8 220 Sr. 8.2
C – Liam Robbins 7-0 235 Jr. 13.4
Key reserves– Both Gach, G, 6-6, Jr., 9.1 ppg; Eric Curry, F-C, 6-9, Sr., 3.9 ppg; Jamal Mashburn Jr., G, 6-2, Fr., 5.2 ppg; Isaiah Ihnen, F, 6-9, So., 2.2 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 156-128 (9th season overall)
Notable: Western Michigan grad transfer Brandon Johnson had a season-high 26 points on 8-for-9 shooting from three in the overtime win vs. Iowa on Christmas Day. The Gophers were 17-for-43 from three, setting a team record for attempts from beyond the arc. Johnson's three-point percentage in that game was a team record and he tied the single-game record for threes made. The Chicago native is shooting 33% from three this season, but he hasn't been able to come close to duplicating that one record-setting performance. He shot 2-for-11 on threes in the seven games before Iowa. Johnson's shot 1-for-14 from long distance since Dec. 25. The Gophers shot 27-for-68 (39.7%) from three in back-to-back wins vs. St. Louis and Iowa, but they have shot 29.9% from deep this season, last in the Big Ten and 303rd nationally.
RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS (10-6, 6-6)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Geo Baker 6-4 195 Sr. 9.9
G – Paul Mulcahy 6-6 210 So. 5.9
G – Caleb McConnell 6-7 195 Jr. 5.1
F – Ron Harper Jr. 6-6 245 Jr. 17.3
C – Myles Johnson 6-11 255 Jr. 8.3
Key reserves – Clifford Omoruyi, F, 6-11, Fr., 4.3 ppg; Jacob Young, G, 6-2, Sr., 14.6 ppg; Montez Mathis, G, 6-4, Jr., 10.8 ppg.
Coach: Steve Pikiell 266-227 (16th season)
Notable: Rutgers guard Jacob Young had 19 points off the bench to help his team win its third straight game last weekend vs. Northwestern. Young ranks second on the Scarlet Knights in scoring (14.6) and first in assists (3.8) and steals (1.8) this season. The Scarlet Knights lost five straight games to fall out of the top 25, but they were ranked as high as No. 11, their highest ranking since 1975-76.
Fuller's score prediction (Picks record 11-6): Rutgers 72, Gophers 62.